CHINA HERITAGE QUARTERLY China Heritage Project, The Australian National University ISSN 1833-8461
No. 28, December 2011


Poems of the West Lake | China Heritage Quarterly

Poems of the West Lake

A.C. Graham

The following selection is from A.C. Graham's Poems of the West Lake: Translations from the Chinese, London: Wellsweep, 1990.

'Yi Jiangnan' 憶江南
Bo Juyi 白居易[1]

In a hill temple in the moonlight searching for cassia buds,
In the State Pavilion, head on pillow, watching the tidal wave.
When will be the day that I shall roam again? 

'Drinking by the Lake: Clear Sky at First, then Rain'
'Yin hushang chu qing hou yu' 飲湖上初晴後雨
Su Shi 蘇軾[2]

The shimmer of light on the water is the play of sunny skies,
The blur of colour across the hills is richer still in rain.
If you wish to compare the lake in the West to the Lady of the West,
Lightly powdered or thickly smeared the fancy is just as apt. 

'Spring Theme: Above the Lake'
'Chun ti hushang' 春題湖上
Bo Juyi[3]

Now spring is here the lake seems a painted picture,
Unruly peaks all round the edge, the water spread out flat.
Pines in ranks on the face of the hills, a thousand layers of green:
The moon centred on the heart of the waves, just one pearl.
Threadends of an emerald-green rug, the extruding paddy-shoots:
Sash of a blue damask skirt, the expanse of new reeds.
If I cannot bring myself yet to put Hangzhou behind me,
Half of what holds me here is on this lake. 

'Walking in Spring by West Lake'
'Qiantang Hu chunxing' 錢塘湖春行
Bo Juyi[4]

North of Lone Hill Temple, west of the Jia Pavilion,
The water's surface has just smoothed, the foot of the cloud low.
Wherever you go new-risen orioles jostle for the warmest tree:
What are they after, the newborn swallows that peak at the spring mud?
A riot of blossoms not long from now will be dazzling to the eye,
The shallow grass can hardly yet submerge the horse's hoof.
Best loved of all, to the east of the lake, where I can never walk enough,
In the shade of the green willows, the causeway of white sand.

'At An Inn in Hangzhou'
'Ti Lin'an di' 題臨安邸
Lin Sheng 林升[5]

Beyond the hills blue hills, beyond the mansions mansions -
To song and dance on the West lake when will there be an end?
Idlers fuddled on the fumes of the warm breeze
Will turn Hangzhou that rises into Kaifeng that fell. 

'Sixth Month, 27th Day:
Written While Drunk on Lake Prospect Tower'
'Wanghu Lou zui shu wu jue' 望湖樓醉書五絕
Su Shi[6]

Swirled ink of black cloud has not yet covered the hills,
Jumping pearls of white rain riotously enter the boat.
A wind to curl the earth up comes, in an instant blows them away,
And under Lake Prospect Tower water seems sky.

The fish and turtles it's forbidden to catch come as near you as they please,
The lotus blossoms no one owns open wherever you go.
Pillowed on water you can order the hills to tilt up, tilt down.
The boat in the breeze has got the knack of ambling round the moon.

Come, take from time the leisure's share you will.
Semi-retirement is retirement still.
Where better could I settle and find a home
Than such a place with peerless lake and hill?


[1] A.C. Graham, trans., Poems of the West Lake: Translations from the Chinese (London: Wellsweep, 1990), p.21.

[2] Ibid, p.23.

[3] Ibid, p.19.

[4] Ibid, p.15.

[5] Ibid, p.35.

[6] The first two of this set of poems by Su Shi is given in the translation of A.C. Graham, Poems of the West Lake, p.25; the third is in the translation of Lin Yutang, The Gay Genius: The Life and Times of Su Tungpo, p.125.